Lexicon of Couples and Family Counseling
S - U
Satir Global Network. An organization of Satir therapists and trainers that originated with Satir’s development of AVANTA.
Satir, Virginia M. The founder and developer of conjoint family therapy and the human validation process model.
Satir model. The complete development of the processes and interventions created by Virginia Satir, including conjoint family therapy, family reconstruction, parts parties, process model, and the human validation process model.
scaling questions. Used in solution-focused and solution-oriented therapies to note changes occurring in small steps. The clients are asked to rate on a 10-point scale how interested they are in finding a solution; how bad a problem is now versus last time or an earlier time; or to predict how much better the problem will be tomorrow.
scapegoat. A member of the family, usually the identified patient or index person, who is designated as the problem and who absorbs displaced conflict and is criticized by others.
Scharff, David and Jill Savege. The foremost scholar-practitioners of a model called object relations family therapy.
schemas. Cognitive constructions or core beliefs through which people generate perceptions and structure their experiences; underlying core beliefs people have about self, others, and the world (and how everything functions), they are central to the assessment and treatment processes associated with cognitive-behavioral family therapy.
Schumer, Florence. An early associate of Salvador Minuchin.
Schwartz, Richard. The developer of internal family systems and co-author with Michael Nichols of Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods.
Schore, Allan N. UCLA neuropsychologist whose research on right-brain development supports the psychoanalytic concepts associated with attachment theory; author of The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy.
sculpting. Adapted from psychodrama by Peggy Papp and used by family practitioners such as Virginia Satir and Bunny Duhl, sculpting is placing family members in physical positions that depict emotional closeness and distance as well as common communications, interactions, roles, or alliances among members of the family system.
Sears, Martha. Wife/partner of William P. Sears and co-author of materials on attachment parenting.
Sears, William P. Pediatrician who advocates for high levels of attachment parenting.
second-order change. Fundamental change in the organization and functioning of the system: The opposite of first-order change.
second-order cybernetics. Anyone attempting to observe or change a system is automatically part of the system.
seeding the unconscious. This refers to Whitaker’s process of taking a family member’s inference far beyond anything the family member normally would consider. These psychological seeds suggest the forbidden, the taboo, the anxiety-provoking, and the hidden.
seed model. Satir’s term for a systemic worldview that answers questions about how we see ourselves (multiple roles, parts, and attributes as opposed to a fixed role); how we experience relationships (egalitarian and interdependent as opposed to hierarchical); how we view causality (circular and recursive as opposed to linear); and how we see change (“change is life” as opposed to “change is something to be resisted”).
Segal, Lynn. Co-author of The Tactics of Change, a leading theorist at the Mental Research Institute (MRI).
selective abstraction. A cognitive distortion: Taking things out of context, paying attention to distortion-supporting details, but ignoring other important information, such as noticing your child’s or spouse’s mistakes, but never commenting on positive attributes or accomplishments.
self-disclosure. Sharing part of oneself or life with a client: Highly valued in feminist family therapy. Appropriate self-disclosure always involves a judgment on the part of the therapist: that sharing some aspect of the therapist’s life will directly benefit the client.
self-elevation. Acting in ways that seek to make the self look better at other people’s expense or at least better than one truly is. Bitter’s second supplemental goal to Dreikurs’ model for children’s misbehavior.
self-monitoring. A cognitive-behavioral intervention that asks clients to keep a detailed, daily record of particular events or psychological reactions so that the therapist and the client can evaluate what the client is doing.
self-object. In psychoanalysis, the part of the self that the child treats as external and to which feelings are attached.
self-report questionnaires. Cognitive-behavioral family practitioners use questionnaires that are designed to reveal unrealistic beliefs and expectations, irrational ideas and schemas, cognitive distortions, and repetitive patterns of discordant behavior or interactions.
Seligman, Martin. Cognitive therapist and researcher; developed the concept of learned helplessness.
Seneca Falls, New York. In 1848, the site of the first gathering of women intent on gaining equal rights.
separation/individuation. Mahler’s third and final stage of child development.
sequences of interactions. Interactions that follow one from another. One of the lenses developed as a metaframework that unifies the tracking processes of various systems therapies and considers sequences that are face-to-face, developmental, and cross-generational.
sexism. The discrimination and oppression of women; the presumption of privilege for men.
sexual/affectional orientation. The individual’s choice and/or way of being with regard to sexual identity and affectional preferences.
shaping. Step-by-step reinforcements of small units of behavior that, taken together, add up to a larger more-complex learned behavior.
Shellenberger, Sylvia. Co-author with Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson of the second edition of Genograms: Assessment and Intervention.
siblings. One’s brothers and sisters.
sibling position. One’s birth position in relation to brothers and sisters.
significance. Kfir’s personality priority in which the individual is willing to do whatever is necessary to maintain self and personal importance. Similar to Satir’s communication stance of blaming.
significant other. Harry Stack Sullivan’s term for a lover or partner.
signs. See questions of difference.
silence. Being quiet, saying nothing, but being attentive. Whitaker uses silence to let therapy be, to let it percolate.
Silverstein, Louise B. A feminist family therapist and co-author with Thelma Goodrich of Feminist Family Therapy: Empowerment in Social Context.
Silverstein, Olga. A member of the Brief Therapy Project at the Ackerman Institute with Peggy Papp and Lynn Hoffman and the Women’s Project with Betty Carter, Peggy Papp, and Marianne Walters.
Skinner, B. F. A behavioral psychologist who developed operant conditioning.
Slipp, Samuel. An object relations therapist who proposed a bridge between individual and family therapy; author of Object Relations: A Dynamic Bridge Between Individual and Family Treatment.
Smuts, Jan C. A former governor of South Africa and military general who wrote Holism and Evolution, a book that influenced Adler, Satir, Whitaker, and the Gestalt therapists.
social constructionism. A postmodern perspective that believes social realities and experiences are co-constructed, as is the meaning that is attached to social interactions. Social constructionism is the basis for linguistic therapy, narrative therapy, reflecting teams, and solution-focused and solution-oriented therapies. Also see constructivism.
social embeddedness. An Adlerian term for contexts, social and cultural, in which a person is raised.
social equality. The belief that all people have an equal right to be respected and valued. This concept is central to the work of Dreikurs and modern Adlerians.
social interest. The action line of having a community feeling (Adler); actively working for the betterment of others, the whole, or the community; making a contribution to life and to others.
socialist feminists. Feminist therapists who were the first to broaden the perspective to include the multiple discriminations based on race, socioeconomic status, national origin, and other historical biases. In therapy, their goals include an assessment of how education, work, and family roles impact the individual, and a determination to transform relationships that are socially burdened and externally imposed.
social learning theory. A behavioral learning approach that integrates social and developmental psychology with classical and operant conditioning.
social reinforcement. Reinforcement that occurs within a social interaction or the reinforcement that comes from being the person who administers primary reinforcements.
social transformation and advocacy. Patriarchy has such negative effects on human life that feminist therapists actively try to change society and to counter its influence on individuals and families. From a feminist perspective, personal liberation cannot occur without social transformation including altering the core assumptions and structures of the helping professions.
societal projection process or societal regression. Bowen believed that under circumstances of chronic, societal stress, public anxiety would increase and government leadership would abandon rational considerations in favor of emotionally driven decisions designed to bring about short-term relief. The most common process would involve two groups joining together to preserve their own positions at the expense of a third. Such societal projection processes tend to result in laws that do little to affect the chronic problem, bring relief to very few, and generate helplessness in many.
solid self. Bowen’s term for people with a clarity of response marked by a broad perspective, a focus on facts and knowledge, an appreciation for complexity, and a recognition of feelings without being dominated by them.
Soltz, Vicki. Co-author with Rudolf Dreikurs of Children: The Challenge.
solution-focused therapy. A therapy that focuses on co-developing preferred solutions for clients. The model’s co-developers are the late Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg.
solution-oriented therapy. A derivative of solution-focused therapy developed by Bill O’Hanlon and Michele Weiner-Davis; this model acknowledges problems faced by individuals and families, but uses exception questions to develop new possibilities.
solution talk. A focus on solutions that solution-focused and solution-oriented therapists use to replace the complaints or problem talk of the clients.
Sonstegard, Manford A. A counselor, educator, and trainer of Adlerian family counselors and group counselors.
Southern, Stephen. Former editor of The Family Journal; reviewed a decade of research themes in The Family Journal.
Spark, Geraldine. A colleague of Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and the co-developer of their model for working with families, called contextual family therapy.
Sperry, Len. An Adlerian, he is the author of numerous couples and family therapy books, including a text on family assessment.
splitting. In psychoanalysis, the psychological act of dividing aspects of self or others into parts, usually two extreme parts (e.g., a good self and bad self).
Sprenkle, Douglas H. Director of doctoral programs in marriage and family therapy at Purdue University; co-author of Common Factors in Couple and Family Therapy and Research Methods in Family Therapy.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Champion of women’s right to vote; first-wave feminist.
status quo. Familiar and routine activities that constitute normal for the person, family, or system. Satir’s starting point in the process of change.
Steinem, Gloria. Leading second-wave feminist; founder and publisher of Ms. Magazine.
STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting. Developed by Don Dinkmeyer, Don Dinkmeyer Jr., and Gary McKay, STEP is an Adlerian-based parent-education program that combines the work of Dreikurs with the communications models of Haim Ginott and Thomas Gordon.
stepfamily. A family in which some members are related only through remarriage.
stereotype. A fixed image or perception of people, things, and places that is oversimplified, rigid, and often prejudiced.
stimulus. An outside agent or force working on an organism.
Stonehenge Conference. In 1984, Monica McGoldrick, Carol Anderson, and Froma Walsh organized a meeting that included 50 prominent women in family therapy who carried on the feminist critique of family therapy and supported the development of the women’s project.
stonewalling. Taking a stance in relation to a partner where one refuses to move, change, or act; saying you will do something and never following through; one of the Gottmans’ four horseman of the apocalypse, a predictor of the end of a marriage.
strategic family therapy. The application of directives and other techniques and strategies in an effort to realign family systems so that presenting problems will be resolved. There are generally three recognized schools of strategic family therapy: The Mental Research Institute model (Bateson, Jackson, and Watzlawick); the Washington School (Haley and Madanes); and the Milan model (Palazzoli and associates).
strengths perspectives. A term often associated with social work that means approaching individuals and families with the desire to identify and actualize their strengths. This perspective is central to what are called resiliency models.
structural determinism. In the face of disturbances, a description of how much of a change a system can tolerate without losing its identity and basic organization.
structural family therapy. A family therapy model founded and developed by Salvador Minuchin and associates; it is built on the assumption that family structures often are designed to maintain problems and that dysfunctional families lack sufficient organization to cope with external and internal problems.
structural map. A mapping process developed within structural family therapy that presents the organization of the family in relation to the presenting problems of the family.
structure. The components of a system and their relationships as it defines the organization of a system.
Stuart, Richard. A behavioral therapist and scholar.
subsystems. Smaller systemic groups within a larger system.
Sullivan, Harry Stack. A neo-Freudian psychoanalyst who focused on interpersonal, person-to-person therapy that became a foundation for the work of some object relations therapists. Sullivan was also one of the first psychoanalysts who was known to be gay.
summary messages. Used by solution-focused and solution-oriented therapists, summary messages usually come at the ends of sessions—especially the first session. The summary lets the client know what the therapist(s) has heard and understands about the family’s problem, and seeks to clarify anything that the interviewer might have missed. Such a summary is followed by a compassionate expression of the emotional impact the problem has had on the couple or family coupled with compliments for how they have endured or what strengths have been mobilized to face the problem.
superego. In psychoanalysis, that part of the psyche that absorbs the mandates of civilization, often through an incorporation of the parent value system, and acts as a restraint in relation to the desires of the id. The superego is made up of two parts: ego-ideal and conscience.
superiority. In Adlerian thought, superiority means “a better position.”
super-reasonable. Satir’s defensive communication stance, involving a reliance on excessive reason or reasonableness in order to handle stress. It has a similar meaning to what Kfir calls the priority of control.
symbiosis. In object relations theory, the mother and child are fused, the same.
symbolic-experiential family therapy. The family therapy model developed by Carl Whitaker.
symmetrical relationship. A family relationship in which family members have relatively equal status and power.
symmetrical sequence. A structural family therapist uses this term to describe an exchange of similar behaviors in which each person assumes an absolute position in an argument from which neither can withdraw. Each part of the symmetrical sequence happens at once, leading to an almost automatic escalation of the fight.
synthesis. The fourth stage of a feminist identity model in which women are still female-centered and female-affirming, but they also can start to appreciate affirming men and effective parts of the dominant culture. Women begin to work closely with supportive members of the dominant culture, and they enlarge their understanding of oppression to see what it does to other groups, other cultures, and other people.
systematic desensitization. See desensitization.
systems. Units of interacting parts. See also family system.
systems theory. See general systems theory.
tailoring. Fitting assessments and interventions to the specific configuration, process, and needs of the family.
teleological lens. A perspective, based on teleology, that examines intent, purpose, and goals in individual behavior, dyadic interactions, and family life.
teleology. The study of final ends, goals, or purposes as motivation for the present. A teleological lens is an additional perspective to those proposed as metaframeworks.
termination. An ending and transition in one phase of life or work so that a new phase may begin; also, the end of counseling or therapy; a time for reorientation, summarization, discussion of future goals, and planning for follow-up events or procedures.
The Family Crucible. Co-authored by Gus Napier and Carl Whitaker, this is one of the most-referenced and most-read books in all of family therapy.
The Family Journal. The professional journal of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC).
“The Question.” An Adlerian intervention in which the client is asked, “If your problems or symptoms disappeared tomorrow, how would your life be different? What would you be doing differently?” Although “The Question” is similar in phrasing to the miracle question, Adlerians understand the answer to be an indication of what the person is avoiding by having the problem. When clients say, “Nothing would be different,” the problem is probably organic or medical.
thickening. A narrative therapy concept that relates to deepening client stories; thickening occurs as clients’ stories are met with interest and curiosity and both a telling and a re-telling of the stories are supported. Thickening stands in opposition to thin descriptions.
thin descriptions. A narrative therapy concept, describing client stories that are expressed in single words or fixed expressions (or diagnoses), such as “I’m anorexic.” Thin descriptions often indicate the ways in which the person and the problem are fused; they signal a need for externalization and thickening.
time-out. A behavioral intervention for extinguishing undesirable behaviors by removing the person from situations that continue to reinforce negative behaviors.
token economy. Reward or reinforcing agents offered in exchange for earned and accumulated points (or tokens).
Tomm, Karl. A Canadian therapist, who, having started out as a strategic therapist, joined the postmodern, social constructionist approach and became one of its strongest advocates.
tracking. A term used by object relations family therapists to mean following a person’s comments for signs of unconscious, emotional reactivity.
tracking sequences. A structural family therapy intervention whereby the therapist follows the evolution of content, themes, and direction that emerges in the family’s communication and interactions.
transference. A term that originated in psychoanalysis, referring to the personal or distorted feelings that arise in the client for the counselor or therapist. In family therapy, transference occurs when emotional reactions to the family practitioner or other family members are triggered due to re-experiencing family-of-origin issues.
transgendered. Men or women who have been trapped in the other sex’s body and/or who choose to reconnect with their correct gender.
transgenerational family therapy. Another term for Bowen’s multigenerational family therapy.
transnational feminists. Feminist therapists who seek to link women’s individual experiences to those of women throughout the world and across national boundaries. Sexual violence, prostitution, and other international processes that hurt and demean women are the focus of these global feminists.
transitional stage. Fairbairn’s second stage in which the child is in conflict between wanting independence and holding.
treatment adherence. Methods for increasing the likelihood that clients will stick to treatment prescriptions until therapy is complete.
triad. Any three people or entities in relation to each other.
triadic process. The processes and interactions of any three people in relation to each other. For Bowen, triangles are two-against-one relationships and triangulation is a negative process that must be avoided. Satir recognizes that triadic process can manifest itself as two-against-one, but she also envisions the possibility that it can become two-for-one, as in two parents working to secure a happy life for a child. She refers to positive triadic process as nurturing triads.
triangles and triangulation. A Bowen conceptualization of negative triadic process. In multigenerational family therapy, triangles always result in a two-against-one experience. Triangulation is the invitation of a third member into a dyadic relationship for the purpose of diffusing or distorting the intensity of the pair’s transactions.
tunnel vision. A cognitive distortion in which the individual is so focused on a single perception or belief that they can only see a given person, action, or event in one way.
typical day. An Adlerian family assessment process.
unbalancing. A structural family therapy intervention in which the therapist adds more force or emphasis to a certain behavior or role—or joins with one family member to add weight to that member’s position in the family—in an effort to interfere with the equilibrium of the family that is maintaining the problem.
unconscious. Freud’s term for the place in the psyche where repressed memories, experiences, and feelings are stored. Other models use the term to mean outside of individual awareness.
undifferentiated ego mass. Bowen’s concept for a lack of differentiation of self in family members such that, under stress, there is a blurring of internal boundaries and often confusion related to family members’ identities.
undifferentiated family ego mass. Bowen’s term for a family that is emotionally fused or stuck-together—as in many schizophrenic families.
unhealthy. An evaluative term used to indicate sickness, a lack of wellness, or ineffective structures, interactions, feelings, and behaviors that negatively impact individual and family wellness.
unique outcomes. Michael White’s term for events that challenge or dispute the client’s problem-saturated or problem-oriented story. Narrative therapists use unique events as a foundation for creating alternative stories.
unorganized families. A structural family therapy term, preferred by Harry Aponte and his ecostructural model, instead of the diagnosis of dysfunctional family.